Proposed smokeless tobacco ban for players at Minute Maid Park

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) — Could it soon be illegal for professional baseball players to chew tobacco at Minute Maid Park? That’s what Houston City Council is considering.  Under the proposed ordinance, it would be illegal, a class C misdemeanor, for both Houston Astros and visiting players to chew tobacco at the venue because some city council members say the players are role models and are setting a bad example for children.

"Why don’t we let the parents parent?," asks Houston City Council member Greg Travis. "Why don’t we let the fathers and mothers say to this child, 'This is bad for you, don’t do it.' That’s what my dad did.”

Of the thirty cities that have Major League Baseball, around half of them have banned smokeless tobacco use in the stadium. 

The proposed smokeless tobacco ban in Houston isn’t quite the same though because fans would still be allowed to use it at the stadium and because committing the offense would become a crime. 

"This is the only one (ordinance from cities throughout the U.S.) that criminalizes the behavior," explains Houston City Council member Mike Knox. "The other cities treat it as a administrative or a civil matter.”  

"What’s different about the proposal here today is it so uniquely targets one group of people, baseball players,” says Kevin McGinnis, chief executive officer of the MLB Players Association. He traveled from New York to speak to Houston City Council.

"We are going to target only the employees of one employer of the entire city of Houston who will be held accountable under this law and I think it’s wrong,” adds Council member Knox.

"Each year, 535,000 kids ages 12 to 17 use smokeless tobacco for the first time," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.  "So it is a serious problem.”

"This is an opportunity to protect children and keep them from getting cancer and we’re trying to come around with every crazy deal,” adds Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen, who put the ordinance on the agenda.

Mayor Turner also pointed out that the ordinance is supported by MLB and the Astros organization, but some members of council are standing firm that the ban shouldn’t only be restricted to Major League Baseball employees. They say we should just add smokeless tobacco products to the city’s ban on smoking in public places.

The mayor has agreed to take a look at the ordinance to possibly make adjustments before council takes a vote.